Is Conservative Judaism Relevant?

Conservative Judaism is an ideological response to two main philosophical frameworks that existed in 19th century Germany.  On the right, one segment of European Judaism was religious and held Halachah as binding; and on the left, European Enlightenment thinking and secularism gave birth to Reform Judaism where Halacha is not binding.  Solomon Schechter, a major contributor to Conservative Judaism, saw Reform Judaism as negating “positive” legal aspects of Judaism, but being historically representative of Jewish philosophical dynamism.  Conversely, according to Schechter, Orthodox Judaism recognized “positive” elements in Jewish Law, but did not account for Jewish legal dynamism.  The moderate group is Conservative Judaism, recognizing “positive” elements in Halachah and accounting for historical dynamism (i.e. Positive Historical Judaism).

In its historical context, Conservative Judaism holds a very important role as a way for Jews to be identifiably Jewish and to participate in modern secular society, but Conservative Judaism is no longer relevant in American society for the following reasons: (1) American society is by nature polarized, (2) Conservative Judaism is a reactive rather than proactive force and (3) in reality the religious space between Orthodoxy and Reform is a fluid spectrum, not a defined set of religious possibilities.

American Society is by Nature Polarized

American Jews are both politically and religiously polarized because America is polarized.  Moderation does not achieve results.  For this reason, Americans are forced to join what he or she believes is the morally correct camp or what they believe will be the most successful one.  In the exact same way, a Conservative Jew grows up in America, sees the world split in two and feels the need to join one side or the other.

Conservative Judaism is Reactive Rather Than Proactive

Conservative Judaism is a reaction to previous Jewish life ways its creators saw as unfeasible, but is Conservative Judaism important as a standalone philosophy?  Perhaps it is, but to many Conservative Jews, it lacks a strong and meaningful rallying call.  It seems the reason most American Conservative Jews claim to be Conservative is because it is the closest available Shul, not because they strongly believe in the tenants of Conservative Judaism.  This is not the case with Reform and Orthodox Judaism.

There are More Religious Options Now than Ever Before

Lastly, for those able to escape polarization, there is more than one stop between Orthodox and Reform.  Conservative Judaism is not a fresh glass of water in a religious desert between Reform and Orthodox Judaism.  There are countless levels of religiosity that are actively pursued by individual Shuls across the nation.  If you live in a Metropolitan area and want a particular type of Shul, chances are you can find one.

Conservative Judaism is an important, viable, real and beautiful part of the reality of Jewish existence, but its importance in American Judaism is waning because by nature they do not take a side.  In addition, Conservative Judaism does not provide and promote a defined rallying call under which searching Jews find repose.  Also, for those who deny the polarized view of Judaism in America, they can find people similar to them; Conservative Judaism is no longer needed to fill the religious vacuum.

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